Friday, May 04, 2007

A World without Microsoft

I'm interested in figuring out how we can build a Net that is a lot less prone to viruses and spam, and not just by putting in filters and setting up caches to test things before they get into your computer.
That doesn't really solve anything. We need an evolutionary step of some sort, or we need to look at the problem in a different way.
My own biggest mistake in the last 20 years was that sometimes I designed solutions for problems that people didn't yet know they had. That's why some of the things that could've made a difference couldn't find a market.
When people get hit between the eyes with a two-by-four by these viruses,they know they have a problem. Still, the right time to address it would have been a while ago. The hardest part isn't inventing the solution but figuring out how to get people to adopt it.

Is it really fair to blame Microsoft for so many of the Net's woes?
The problem with Windows isn't so much that it's insecure, but that it is stale. The company has flailed away, making changes mainly to protect its monopoly. So lately, instead of getting better with each new release, Windows is just getting different.

Also, Windows isn't well architected. There's a simple way to find out if an operating system has been well designed. When you get an error message, go to the help system and look up the exact words in that message to see if there was enough of a concept of an architecture that they have a consistent vocabulary to talk about what's broken.

All you have to do is try it on a Mac and on a PC to see the difference.
Apple took the time to come up with a concise vocabulary, but in Windows the designers of the help system used different terminology from the programmers. That reflects a lack of design discipline, which means that as the system grows, so does the ambiguity of the software itself. The result is a system encrusted with multiple layers of things that weren't really designed in so much as bolted on. Plus there are inessential artifacts of DOS from 20 years ago that still peek through and make trouble.
Bill Gates is a very smart person and is very dedicated, but you can't change the fact that it is human nature for people to carve up a problem and try to own things, for the complexity to accrete in corners, and for the vocabulary of the project not to make it all the way across.

If I were to propose one thing that we as the human race need to do, I'd say we can't let the future just happen anymore. If too many of the possible futures are catastrophes, we have to try to steer down the less dangerous paths. That implies that you somehow have to manage markets, geopolitics, and human behavior in the way we have become able to manage the scientific process. Those are inconceivable things.

So what does it mean to apply design to the choice of our future? I don't have a good answer for that. It's an existential question: If we don't choose, the choice will be made for us in a way we won't likely want. But it's so much more convenient to go on pretending that the bad guys aren't out there and not acknowledging that all it would take would be some teenager making a minor modification to a virus like Sobig that could shut down all of corporate America.

Liberally taken from BILL JOY
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